Friday, December 31, 2010

Going native: Leuer, Taylor lead Badgers past Minnesota

Minnesota had some big numbers going for it in Tuesday’s Big Ten Conference opener against Wisconsin at the Kohl Center.

The 13th-ranked Golden Gophers pulled down 42 rebounds –18 more than the Badgers – and scored 16 second-chance points. They also held a 22-point advantage in terms of points in the paint.

In the end, however, it was the Badgers’ small numbers that made the difference. Like an NCAA season-low two turnovers and one missed free throw.
The 24th-ranked Badgers did the little things right and benefitted from big-time performances from Minnesota natives Jon Leuer and Jordan Taylor to score a 68-60 win over their Border Battle rival.

The victory snapped a three-game win streak in the series for Minnesota and gave Wisconsin its eighth-consecutive win in a Big Ten opener.

“We took care of the ball, made good decisions for the most part, and scoring 68 points off that team is a pretty good accomplishment,” Taylor said. “They have some long, athletic guys who can really defend. That’s a good team.

“We’re just happy to have the win.”

Taylor poured in a game-high 22 points to go with seven assists, while Leuer scored 16 and pulled down nine rebounds. The duo combined to go 14-for-15 from the free throw line – including a perfect 7-of-7 over the final 1:12 of the game to salt away the win.

The Badgers needed that effort against a Minnesota team that battled back from a double-digit deficit to take the lead with seven minutes to play.
That advantage was short-lived, as the Badgers snagged the lead right back on a 3-pointer by Keaton Nankivil – who finished with 11 points -- but Minnesota refused to let UW pull away.

Taylor added another trey on UW’s next possession, but the Badgers held a tenuous one-point lead, at 59-58, with less than 1 1/2 minutes remaining.

That’s when Taylor came through with a game-changing play. He drove to the basket and -- instead of kicking to the perimeter in the face of pressure -- used a shot fake to convert a tough left-handed basket, draw a foul and set up a three-point play.

Taylor converted the free throw and bumped the Badgers’ lead to four points.

“All season I look at Jordan as a floor leader in the way he controls the tempo of our team,” Nankivil said. “Tonight, I saw him pushing through some fatigue, and a lot of minutes against some very tough guards defensively.

“As a teammate, to see him do that, it really inspires us to keep going.”

Ralph Sampson III hit a jumper on the other end for Minnesota, but Leuer came up with a clutch offensive rebound on the Badgers’ next trip.

The board came with 26 seconds left and the shot clock off, forcing the Gophers to foul. From there, Leuer and Taylor combined to hit seven straight free throws to ice the win.

“I still think the biggest play of the game was Jon’s offensive rebound,” Taylor said. “We were up by two and that rebound allowed us to get the ball and shoot free throws the rest of the game.”

In addition to Leuer and Taylor, fellow Minnesota native Jared Berggren contributed eight points, four rebounds and three blocks off the bench.

Despite pulling down 17 offensive rebounds, Minnesota finished with only two more field goals than the Badgers. Still, it was enough to help the Gophers grab the advantage in the first half.

Minnesota took a 19-14 lead before Taylor erased a slow start and scored nine straight points for Wisconsin, the final two on free throws that sparked a 9-2 run to put the Badgers ahead 30-24.

Leuer hit a 3-pointer to give him 1,000 career points in the first half – becoming the 36th player in UW history to do so -- and Wisconsin pushed the lead to 40-30 early in the second off another 3 by Leuer and a jumper in the lane by Taylor.

Minnesota is one of only three Big Ten opponents to win at the Kohl Center during head coach Bo Ryan’s tenure, but the Gophers couldn't repeat the feat on Tuesday.

That’s because of Taylor, who had just five total points against Minnesota in three previous games, and Leuer, who had averaged 6.6 points in five games against the Gophers.

It’s also due to the fact that UW turned the ball over just twice. In Minnesota’s overtime win at the Kohl Center two years ago, the Gophers forced Wisconsin into 18 turnovers.

“It was a big win for us,” Leuer said. “They’ve kind of had our number over the past couple of years, so to get this one felt good, definitely.”

Now the Badgers turn their attention to their first Big Ten road matchup, which comes Sunday against No. 25 Illinois. Tip-off from Champaign, Ill., is set for 5 p.m. on the Big Ten Network.

“Like Coach Ryan said after the game, we’re 1-0 in the Big Ten and we have 17 more to go," Leuer said. "That kind of put it into perspective for us that it is only one game.”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Front-loaded: Big men lead Badgers past Green Bay

With three wins in six days in their rearview mirror, the Badgers can look forward to a little time away from the court.

And, after a 70-56 win over Green Bay (4-7) to wrap up a sweep of its series against in-state rivals, the Wisconsin men’s basketball team (9-2) heads into a break for finals week riding a five-game win streak.

Wisconsin’s big men carried the load, with the starting frontcourt of sophomore Mike Bruesewitz, Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil matching the Phoenix’s total scoring output with 56 points. The trio’s production came on the back of a combined 9-for-13 shooting performance from 3-point range.

Leuer led the way with 22 points and pulled down eight rebounds, while Bruesewitz tallied a career-high 18 points and Nankivil chipped in 16 – one point off his season-best total – to go with four blocks.

Combined with 10 points from point guard Jordan Taylor, the Badgers finished with four players in double-figure scoring for the second time this season.

“Any time we can get good production and get things going like Mike and Keaton did tonight, it’s just another dimension for our team,” Leuer said. “Multiple guys scoring in double figures, four tonight, that just puts pressure on the defense.

“You don’t know who to help off of, we shot the ball well tonight, and that opens up lanes for Jordan to drive. We’re a pretty dynamic team when we have all of these good parts working.”

As a team, UW shot a season-high 58.8 percent from 3-point range while Green Bay struggled to find its range and connected on just 4 of 15 attempts from distance.

“It’s an advantage when you shoot (3-pointers) with confidence, and you know that within the offense you can do that, but we obviously want points on the inside also,” UW head coach Bo Ryan said. “Sometimes it’s the way teams are playing you, you just have to keep probing and finding ways.”

The Phoenix led briefly midway through the first half, but the Badgers put together a 21-6 run that broke things open heading into the locker room. By holding Green Bay to eight points over the final 10:53 of the period, UW enjoyed a 12-point halftime lead at 33-21.

“We stepped up our energy on defense and you could feel that we were getting them to take tough shots,” Leuer said. “A lot of times, they were in late shot clock situations, so we made them force up some shots.”

Green Bay struck first out of the half and trimmed the lead to seven points, but after leading scorer Rahmon Fletcher picked up his third foul and headed to the bench, UW reassumed command.

In Fletcher’s absence, the Badgers went on a 7-2 run. That eventually ballooned into a 13-2 spurt once Fletcher returned, as Leuer knocked down back-to-back treys to push the Badgers’ lead to 18 points, at 46-28, just over seven minutes into the half.

Green Bay responded, but a dunk by Nankivil pushed the lead back to 18. He followed with a 3-pointer two possessions later to once again put the lead at 18, but the Phoenix wouldn’t fold.

Green Bay trimmed UW’s advantage to single digits three times in the last three minutes, but the Badgers answered from the free throw line.

Leuer, Nankivil and Taylor combined to go 8-for-8 at the charity stripe in the final minute to ice UW’s fifth sweep of its in-state Division I foes in 10 seasons under Ryan.

UW entered the night as the Big Ten’s top free-throw shooting team and, for the game, went 18-of-22 at the line (81.8 percent).

The Badgers have a nine-day break before closing out their non-conference season against Coppin State on Dec. 23 at the Kohl Center. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m., with the game available on

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Taylor leads way as Badgers rout North Carolina State

Junior Jordan Taylor didn't shy away from his responsibility as Wisconsin's lead guard.
With UW coming off a loss in the title game of the Old Spice Classic, Taylor reminded himself to attack the basket and provide a different look for an offense that had become hesitant and too perimeter-oriented.
True to his word, Taylor set the tone early in UW's matchup with visiting North Carolina State Wednesday night in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
With Taylor attacking the lane, UW's offense flowed from inside-out and the Badgers got a plethora of high-percentage shots en route to a surprisingly easy 87-48 victory in front of a crowd of 17,230 at the Kohl Center.
Taylor scored 14 of his 21 points in the first half to help UW build a 44-21 lead. Taylor (8-of-12-shooting) finished with three assists and just one turnover in 29 minutes as UW helped the Big Ten win the challenge for the second consecutive season.
"He is an intelligent player," UW coach Bo Ryan said. "He knows what makes a team more effective than not. And probing is something we always talk about with our lead guards . . . 
"Jordan understands what it takes."
The Badgers (5-2), who scored 51 points in the loss to Notre Dame in the Old Spice Classic, hit 13 of 26 field-goal attempts and got to the free-throw line often (13 of 16) in the first 20 minutes Wednesday night.
They finished 11 of 20 from three-point range (55%), with many of the three-pointers coming after the ball had penetrated the interior of the defense; made 28 of 56 field-goal attempts overall; and made 20 of 26 free-throw attempts compared with just 8 of 13 for the Wolfpack.
"Tonight I was trying to get into the lane more, trying to attack and create for other people," Taylor said. "But I think everybody was being more aggressive."
Include senior forward Jon Leuer in that group. Leuer fought for good position and scored 13 of his 22 points in the first half. He also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds to help UW win that battle, 41-30.
"We were making hard cuts, and they have to defend them," Leuer said when asked about UW's big edge at the free-throw line. "A lot of times when you make hard cuts like that they're going to grab and hold and the officials were seeing that.
"That's how we were able to build up a lot of fouls against them. That and getting the ball inside."
Sophomores Jared Berggren (12 points), Mike Bruesewitz (nine points) and Ryan Evans (nine points) combined to score 30 points for UW. Berggren and Bruesewitz each went 3 for 3 from three-point range.
"The guys haven't panicked," Ryan said. "They just ran good offense, got good looks and the shots went down."
The Wolfpack (4-2), playing without senior forward Tracy Smith (knee) and playing a road game for the first time this season, was disjointed on offense and careless with the basketball.
North Carolina State entered the night averaging 27.4 free-throw attempts and 11.8 turnovers per game.
The Wolf Pack attempted three free throws, had 11 turnovers in the first half and looked helpless as UW put together a 15-0 run over the final 6 minutes 11 seconds of the half.
That run grew to 23-0 as North Carolina State went scoreless over the first 3:35 of the second half.
"I really don't have much to say," said North Carolina State coach Sidney Lowe, whose team made 18 of 57 field-goal attempts (31.6%). "They played well. They shot the ball well. They executed, and we didn't."